Full Term Faith   Leave a comment

There have been requests for me to post the sermon from Sunday, December 18, 2011 on this blog. So, here it is:

Full Term Faith – A sermon offered at Newtonbrook United Church by Rev. Allan Baker

Luke 1: 26 – 38, 46 – 55

Welcome to the fourth Sunday of Advent, 2011 – the Sunday where the theme is supposed to be “love”. This completes the annual Advent cycle of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Yes, that has not changed!

The questions remain the same too – where do we find of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love in our lives, and in God’s world? How do these themes fit with what is happening in my life, and in the world around me? Is it possible to engage in Birthing A New Creation, as our theme for Advent 2011?

Hope seems to be hard to come by these days, even for people of our Christian faith. There are stories in the corporate media of;

  • dishonesty and corruption;
  • economic instability;
  • violence and repression of democracy;
  • resistance to addressing issues of climate change;
  • and it takes little imagination to add to the list – and that’s not why we’re here today.

What can we say when it seems that the only news we are given is bad news?

It is no accident that Advent begins each year with the theme of HOPE. While others may look forward to Christmas, and the birth of a baby, last week it was John the Baptist who said that Christmas is NOT about a baby – it IS about the coming of God in the person of Jesus. Advent, the season of preparation and waiting IS about the paradox of God coming, AND God being with us at the same time. This is a God of compassion for humanity, and a God who dreams of justice for all.

On Saturday, December 3rd I had the privilege of attending the official opening of the new building that will be used by the congregation of St. George Anglican church here in Willowdale. Rev. Irene Ty was there as well and she had come from the party that was celebrating the opening of a new foodbank at Northview Secondary school, at the corner of Bathurst and Finch. In fact, the media release stated that:

“North York Harvest, Northview Heights Secondary School, and the Bathurst-Finch Network are excited to announce the launch of the Bathurst-Finch Community Food Bank.”[1]

 

Excited? This new foodbank surely a sign of compassion in our city. Compassion and charity are good. (Please excuse me if you live in Thornhill, or beyond the borders of “416”, as I know some of you do.) In Toronto’s budget discussions compassion seems to have been run over by the steamroller that is paving the way for smaller taxes and fewer civic services. In short, a less compassionate Toronto!

Foodbanks are a sign of compassion, and charity. They also signal societal injustice.

Here at Newtonbrook we do not have a foodbank. However, some of our Drop Inn guests need additional food to hold body and soul together. From September 1 to November 30 we gave our guests 288 bags containing an emergency supply of food. This is one way that Newtonbrook United Church tries to help. It is a sign of compassion; and it is an act of charity.

On Friday morning the CBC was proud to announce that their annual Sounds of the Season event on Thursday had raised over $230,000 for the Daily Bread Foodbank. This is a positive sign in a society where only 23 per cent of Canadians claimed a charitable donation on their 2010 income tax return – for a median amount of $260.[2] That means that ½ of the people who filed tax returns gave more than $260; or a bit more than $20 per month. Christians, in their generosity, are real leaders in this society!

I remember my first evening at the Warden Woods foodbank many years ago. None of the people to whom I handed parcels of food looked me in the eye. I learned something of what it is like to have to beg for food in society that includes millionaires and billionaires.

I also learned that I have the power to decide whether to give, or not. Those who give, and those who receive, are not equals. In a society, that can lead to conflict, not PEACE.

Giving food to foodbanks raises some difficult questions:[3]

  1. Does it invite us to examine the root causes of the suffering for people who come there, or does it primarily help to make the donors feel good?
  2. How are people who come to the foodbank involved in the process? Is there respect for their dreams to have control over / the power to make decisions that affect their own lives?

When Mary told Elizabeth about God’s dream, she said that God wanted the hungry filled with good things. Did she mean compassion and charity, or did she mean justice?

“Charity and kind deeds are always good; there will always be a need for help. But the individualization of compassion means that one does not ask how many of the suffering are in fact victims.”[4] (Marcus Borg)

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”Hélder Câmara

During my call to a previous United Church, I personally discovered that those words of Hélder Câmara were very powerful. The local Hunger Coalition was attempting to institute a school lunch programme. The school board Trustees told us that they fully supported this initiative, but could not spend any money on it. One Sunday morning in the Prayers of the People I offered this prayer:

“Our prayers today go out to our school children

who go to school each day hungry,

and to the Trustees and officials who say they are willing to help in any way,

short of spending money.”

One of those “officials” had some words for me right after worship finished. The prayer has been beside my desk ever since as a reminder of the power of words to challenge injustice and inequity. All of us have words and stories that can help to birth a new creation of justice in God’s world. In my experience, our words can be like a dentist’s drill that has touched a nerve when the response is something like;

more money isn’t the answer ….” or something similar to those words.

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”Hélder Câmara

When we ask about the system that creates poverty, we are asking a question about injustice – the lack of justice. WE ARE asking questions that indicate that the dominant economic system needs to be changed so that JUSTICE might flow through our streets[5] like a river that will wash our neighbourhoods clean of the need for charity. We sing about justice when we sing our commitment:

“We’ll sing songs of wrongs that can be righted;

We’ll dream dreams of hurts that can be healed;

We’ll find the words for those whose lips are sealed;

We’ll make the tunes for those who sing no longer.”[6]

During the past few months we have heard a small bit of discussion on the disparity of wealth and poverty in Toronto, thanks to the folks the Occupy movement, for example. This discussion happened at the same time that Canadian Business magazine published a map showing that five of Canada’s richest ten neighbourhoods are right here in the City of Toronto[7]. The United Way’s: Poverty by Postal Code is a much different report.[8]

Those who work for JUSTICE, and a positive change in the way things are, do so, and have done so, because Christians believe that God works with us, alongside us, and through us. Because we trust God’s ever-present LOVE, our vision of a better future is not just wishful thinking – it is a part of God’s dream[9]. Our HOPE is based in God’s promises that we find in many places in the Bible – promises that we will not be alone in the struggle for justice[10]. We also know from our Bible that Pharoh is a symbol of the oppressor, and that Pharoh is always defeated.[11] Regardless of what the corporate media, the voice of the powerful, brings to us, we know that God’s dream is one of justice for all of God’s creation – human life and all other forms of life.

  • We work together with God whenever we refuse to give into hopelessness in the face of injustice.
  • We work together with God whenever we speak up on behalf of people facing conflict and inequality.
  • We work together with God whenever we use our voice, our time, our generosity and our passion to educate, advocate and engage.

 

In fact, we are called to share LOVE through both charity and acts that will bring justice to God’s world. I think that we need to examine how much time, energy and especially how much money we put into charity – AND MATCH THAT AMOUNT of time, energy and money in justice work. Remember,

Mary was told by an angel that;

with God, nothing will be impossible[12],

and Mary told Elizabeth that:

God “has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he (God) has sent away empty.”[13]

Both words – “justice” and “compassion”  – indicate what is needed. “Justice without compassion easily sounds like “just politics”; compassion without justice too easily becomes individualized and systemically acquiescent.”[14] (Marcus Borg)

  • IF we are God’s hands in birthing a new creation;
  • IF we are participating in God’s mission and God’s dream of a world where compassion and justice exist side by side; we must ask ourselves;
  • How much time and energy are we investing in each to make this world the world of God’s dreams?

With God, nothing will be impossible! Justice for all of God’s children IS POSSIBLE ! Like Mary, we are a part of a dream for a new creation and our faith – like Mary’s faith, ours is a Full Term Faith. A new world is possible – a world of justice for all, not just charity!

Questions for reflection:

1. What recent news items might lead you to think that some of the world’s problems will never be solved? What do you want to say when you hear, “with God, nothing will be impossible”?

2. Is there a conflict between charity and justice? Which provides you with more positive feelings? Which provides you with feelings of long-term hope?

3. For you, how does Christian hope differ from positive thinking? Is there an overlap? Was Mary just being optimistic?

4. Besides God’s dream that all will have “full” lives (John 10:10), on what do you base your hope for the future?


[1] http://www.northyorkharvest.com/media-release/2011-nov-29-0

[2] The Toronto Star: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1097015–canadian-charitable-donations-up-in-2010-statscan

[3] Thanks to Deborah Marshall, “Mandate, May 2001”, for inspiring these questions

[4] Marcus J. Borg, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, p. 301

[5] Amos 5:24 – let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (RSV)

[6] Voices United # 586 – We Shall Go Out With Hope of Resurrection

[7] http://www.canadianbusiness.com/article/56479–interactive-map-canada-s-10-richest-postal-codes

[8] http://www.unitedwaytoronto.com/whatWeDo/reports/povertyByPostalCode.php

[9] Mary Lou Redding, Upper Room, October 2011, p. 41

[10] For example, Exodus 4:12, Jeremiah 1: 8, Jeremiah 23:23

[11] Walter Brueggemann, Reverberations of Faith, p. 74

[12] Luke 1:37 (RSV)

[13] Luke 1:55 (RSV)

[14] Marcus J. Borg, Reading the Bible Again for the First time, p. 300

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